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September 17, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 3: Ed Pershing shuns the entrepreneurial description, but his legacy says something very different

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in a series highlighting the remarkable career of Ed Pershing, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PYA, the power behind He has announced that he will step down as CEO at the end of 2019. Since I consider him more of a friend than a boss, I’m eschewing normal journalistic style to refer to him as “Ed” in this series.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The person who shuns being called an entrepreneur clearly has a passion for starting new ventures, both within PYA and outside the firm. Those start-ups are all driven by distinct voids that Ed Pershing saw and, more important, decided to address.

PYA’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer quickly and clearly emphasizes that filling such voids successfully requires visionary leaders, committed staff, and a well-defined strategy with concrete and measurable milestones. Without people who not only saw the vision but embraced it and brought their own ideas to the table, none of the affiliates would have survived, much less thrived over the years.

“When I started Pershing & Yoakley CPAs, I knew there would be a second company,” Ed says, adding, “I knew it would be in real estate. My hope was there would be at least one more a professional services investment advisory company.” His reasoning was the fact that the firm’s core clients – healthcare providers – were not being adequately served in terms of their strategic, operational and financial needs.

“I actively searched for over seven years to find the right person,” Ed says. “You have to have the right leader to build a company around.”

He found that person in Greg Gheen, and Realty Trust Group was launched in 1998. Today, it is the largest of the PYA affiliates, acting as an extension of healthcare leadership teams to bring a comprehensive view of their real estate portfolio and empower their organizations to utilize real estate as a strategic asset, not just a cost of doing business.

Ed’s next start-up within the PYA family was launched a year later as a result of a turnaround project for a Medicaid program in Alabama. There were a number of errors in the reimbursement payments which caused the always inquisitive Pershing to wonder, “If we’re finding these errors in a government program, what about for private, self-insured companies?”

Flying home one night, Ed developed the business plan for the next PYA affiliate named Healthcare Horizons Consulting Group Inc. “I was eating a late snack at a table in the Atlanta airport,” he recalls. We wondered if, in traditional entrepreneur mode, the plan was drawn-up on the back of an envelope. “No, I pulled-out a piece of paper from my notepad,” Ed says.

Today, Healthcare Horizons is a leading national expert in providing healthcare claims audit services, identifying overpaid or erroneous claims through its “100% Difference” model, and recovering millions of dollars for clients’ bottom lines. Its clients are well-recognized national brands.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is our unmatched capabilities in healthcare claims auditing,” Ed says. “I say with great confidence that Randy King is the most capable individual in the country in serving large employers with this much needed service. What Randy and his team provide to their clients is frequently met with great resistance from insurance companies, but the return for our clients is significant.”

The driver behind the third affiliate – PYA Waltman Capital – underscores a side of Ed that many don’t see. It’s his passion for everyone – from those in the C-Suite to those in the lowest of entry level positions.

From his healthcare consulting work, Ed saw a need to help well-compensated professionals – hospital management and physicians – better manage their investments without incurring huge fees due to transaction costs in addition to management fees.

“We were among the very first to manage assets on a fee basis with no transactional costs,” Ed says. “Also, I wanted to investigate and address what I suspected to be a common practice in retirement plans for hospital employees, unreasonable terms and fees by plan asset managers.” PYA employee, Bill Waltman was selected to serve as President to lead this initiative and continues in that role today, since it’s founding in 2005.

“I saw retirement plans at many community hospitals that were not being managed with the fiduciary tenacity that I believed should be administered,” he said. “I had observed instances where it appeared these investment advisors’ practices resulted in instances where lower paid workers in particular, having spent their entire careers at a hospital, not having as adequate retirement funds as they should have. Then management companies were often recommended to hospitals by their state hospital associations because the associations were being paid large fees.”

The purposes and goals that led to the founding of PYA Waltman Capital. After its founding, Ed uncovered a specific challenge that community hospitals faced that he thought PYA Waltman Capital could address. Ed credits Joe Dawson, then Administrator at Blount Memorial Hospital, for becoming PYA Waltman’s first hospital retirement fund client.

Throughout his career, Ed has seen firsthand the importance of analytics – from the turnaround work for the Medicaid program referenced earlier to the algorithms Healthcare Horizons uses – so he jumped at the chance to launch PYA Analytics (PYAA) in 2013 when Brian Worley, PhD decided to retire from Oak Ridge National Laboratory after serving for over 30 years at the lab, most recently as Division Director.

Ed’s largest vision for and challenge to the PYAA team was the development of an affordable, data agnostic tool that would revolutionize the way healthcare information and disparate data is captured, ingested, managed and analyzed and improve the resulting decision-making by healthcare providers.

“I thought it would take seven years and hoped for five,” he said. “They built it – Cyclone – in three years.”

NEXT: A few simple words that capture Ed’s vision.


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